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Buying Myself Back: A Model for Redistribution

Buying Myself Back: A Model for Redistribution
token ID: 12731802054160154759290488904109869109108530284611516750060019851722433232897
wallet address: 0x1c25f1d0e2e1ab05d42e54517611afe49e484482
smart contract address: 0x495f947276749Ce646f68AC8c248420045cb7b5e
non-fungible token ERC-1155
Conceived in 2021 and minted on 25 April 2021. This work is unique.
The artist
Special notice
Please note for tax purposes, including potential sales tax, NFTs may be considered a digital service or digital product and thus Christie’s may be required to collect relevant taxes dependent on local laws. For tax rate information, you may wish to consult an independent tax advisor Please note that you must make payment for this lot in US Dollars, payment in the cryptocurrency Ether will not be accepted.
Further details
This lot is being offered with an open reserve.

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Lot Essay

Photographed, publicized, promoted and propagated, Emily Ratajkowski (b. 1991) is intensely familiar with having her image wrested from her for another’s profit, as chronicled in her cataclysmic essay Buying Myself Back, published in the September 2020 issue of New York Magazine. Engrossed in and enamored by art history since university, Ratajkowski now performs her own conceptual work with Buying Myself Back: A Model for Redistribution (2021) in opposition to the ingrained systems of gaze designed to perpetually exclude the muse from capitalizing off her own features. With the advent of blockchain technology and the availability of the non-fungible token (NFT) as a viable digital medium, Ratajkowski boldly reclaims her image, and the commercial properties therein, by employing the NFT as a tradeable metaphor for that which has no physical embodiment. In carving its presence on the immutable, universal Ethereum blockchain ledger, the NFT facilitates Ratajkowski’s message in a way that breaks new ground for feminist art history and practice.
Though the tradition of the Odalisque, or depiction of a reclining seductress, enjoys a long, productive art historical ancestry, typically from the brushes of male painters, it was only with the dawn of the U.S.-based women’s rights movement in the twentieth century that female artists finally felt empowered to respond to the entrenched motif. Rather than accepting their fates as subjects alone, visionaries like Carolee Schneemann, Hannah Wilke and Adrian Piper challenged their respective canons by presenting themselves as both subjects and creators. Schneemann’s scandalous Interior Scroll (1975) performance confronted a desensitized art world with the realities of womanhood and the expectations of production, while Wilke’s gum sculptures and skin scars reference the ease with which women are used and thrown away. Often disregarded as an artist for being too beautiful, Wilke has since emerged one of the most vocal champions of the female struggle: “I chose gum because it’s the perfect metaphor for the American woman—chew her up, get what you want out of her, throw her out and pop in a new piece” (H. Wilke, quoted in H. Williams, “Hannah Wilke’s Naked Crusade to Subvert the Patriarchy”, Artsy, 1 January 2019). Similarly, Piper took on an alternate mustachioed, Afro-sporting personality in her breakout Mythic Being series, enacted in the early 1970s, to investigate gender-based power structures and the influence of mediated image-making on cultural perception. To the extent that she shed her identity as a light-skinned woman, Piper appropriated a new societal role to undermine existing hierarchies and flip the script on exploitation.
Ratajkowski seamlessly joins this lineage of women working against the status quo in new media, echoing their inclinations in her use of the calculated image to support a conceptual framework. The visual manifestation of Ratajkowski’s token – a JPEG file linked to the token ID – is definitively not the artwork itself. Instead, the JPEG features Ratajkowski in front of a work she owns from Richard Prince’s Instagram painting series for which Ratajkowski was the subject. A member of the Pictures Generation working at the junction between popular culture and fine art, Prince recently debuted his Instagram series, in which the well-known appropriation artist prints images of mainly female social media posts, including his added public comments, onto canvas for redistribution. Ratajkowski’s example from the series illustrates her own Instagram post of an image from a 2014 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue photo shoot, where, clad only in the painted branding of the magazine, Ratajkowski left the set with $150 in compensation and the implied, unquantifiable reward of visibility in the famed publication. Shortly thereafter, Ratajkowski’s social media attempt to exert authority over her image landed as a post in a Prince painting, complete with the number of Instagram “likes” and three unrelated comments. As readers of Ratajkowski’s September 2020 essay will know, she acquired the painting for $81,000. The JPEG accompanying the present token of the model-cum-artist in her home before Prince’s inkjet portrait of her, then, raises questions surrounding the nature of authorship, specifically when it comes to the digital realm, while figuratively returning the Instagram post to its digitally native terrain. Thus, Ratajkowski’s work surpasses such meta-narratives of the Pictures Generation by being an appropriation of an appropriation – an image of an image – ad infinitum.
As a certificate of authenticity for the digital era – the very era, in fact, that allows for the consistent proliferation of Ratajkowski’s visage without her consent – the present token reinstates Ratajkowski’s agency over her own image by allowing her access to its monetary and symbolic value, both of which she and other women in similar professions have too often been deprived. In keeping with the conceptual spirit, the present lot is offered with an unknown estimate and open reserve, asking the market alone to determine the amount to which the muse is entitled for her image and relying on the smart contract inherent to the token platform to determine future royalties. In this way, Buying Back Myself: A Model for Redistribution embraces revolutionary NFT technology to restructure the valueless online image—here, of Ratajkowski standing in front of Prince’s Ratajkowski—into an exclusive commodity with a traceable, digital signature; the principle of scarcity that once solely belonged to material objects in the real world is now applicable to virtual multiples within the online sphere. “We spend so much time in the offline world curating our surroundings—putting art on our walls, figuring out what car to drive, what house to buy, what neighborhood to live in—expressing ourselves through the consumption of scarce goods and building identities around the physical objects that we own,” attests Kevin Roose, columnist for The New York Times. “And now, with NFTs, that aspect of life—of figuring out what to buy to signal who we are and what we value—that can also be online” (K. Roose, “Cryptocurrency’s Newest Frontier”, quoted in The Daily, podcast, 13 April 2021, 27:28). In essence, the antithetical premise of NFTs as unique copies challenges how we possess ourselves.
With legions of boundary-pushing women artists before her and a limitless Internet of possibilities ahead of her, Ratajkowski ingeniously asserts sovereignty over the future life of her own face, paving the way for others to do the same. And so, perhaps the verdict on redistribution is justice in capital—that is, capital restored to the artist represented here who recently voiced these very ideas: “I will remain as the real Emily; the Emily who owns the high-art Emily, and the one who wrote the essay [for New York Magazine], too. She will continue to carve out control where she can find it” (E. Ratajkowski, “Buying Myself Back”, in New York Magazine, 15 September 2020).

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